Joy of Rome

Special: Our Top 5 Churches to see in Rome!

Did you know that there are over 900 churches in the Eternal City? Incredible, right! So how do you choose the best churches to see in Rome? Let us guide you! Each one of our suggestions gives you the chance to experience some of the most valuable and interesting art, architecture and history.  Come along and discover our top 5 Churches to see in Rome!

Santa Maria del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo, 12

Short on time and can’t squeeze in the Borghese Gallery? Here’s the next best thing and it’s absolutely free! See Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini and more!

According to legend this basilica was built on a giant, haunted walnut tree whose demons bothered the people of Rome until 1099 when Pope Paschal II called holy officials and citizens together to perform an exorcism. The tree was replaced by a simple chapel, and then rebuild in 1477. In the 1600s the church was reconstructed under the guiding hands of Bernini and the way it looks today the result of his work. Inside you’ll find the Chigi family chapel, designed by Raphael and Bramante’s choir stall.

The art inside church reads like a who’s who of Renaissance and Baroque art. You’ll discover works by Caravaggio, Pinturicchio, Algardi and Bregno. This is not just a place of pilgrimage for the holy but also for anyone who wants to see some of the finest art in the world in its original context, just as patrons and artists intended.

You can wander through the different chapels in the basilica any time from Monday to Thursdays from 10.30am to 12.30pm then 4pm to 6.30pm. On Friday and Saturday you can enter the church between 10.30pm and 6.30pm and on Sundays between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

If this taste of Caravaggio has left you curious and wanting more, follow us and on our Trail of Caravaggio Tour

Basilica di Santa Cosma and Damiano

Via dei Fori Imperiali, 1

Psst … Want to know a secret? This little jewel of a church,  just a minute away from the Imperial Forum, hides the Temple of Romulus. Know what else? You can still see the rotunda of the original temple inside!

Many churches in Rome were built on top of temples or other ancient Roman buildings, like this one. It was once the Temple of Romulus, then the Library of Peace and finally a church dedicated to twin brothers, martyred in the 3rd century.

Here you will find a peaceful cloister, out of the rush of this busy part of Rome, and once inside you’ll also discover some beautiful examples of early Christian mosaics as well as Baroque frescoes by Allegrini in the side chapels.

If you’re in the medical field you might be interested to know that Cosma and Damiano were doctors and are the patron saints of physicians, pharmacists, surgeons and vets.

The church is open every day from 10am to 1pm then 3pm to 6pm.

If you want to see more of Romulus’ Temple let us lead you through the secrets of the Forum on our Ancient Rome Classic Tour . Curious to see more of what lies beneath Rome? On our Underground Rome Tour  you’ll experience layer upon layer of history!

The Church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola

Via del Caravita, 8a

Do you like clever magic tricks? Do you enjoy optical illusions? In this church the magician’s deception’s all in the perspective!

This Baroque basilica – one of the best churches to see in Rome of this style – was finished in 1650 and created by Jesuit brothers. They didn’t always have enough money to follow all the rules of church building but they did have a genius Baroque painter. Andrea Pozzo used his amazing skills at perspective painting to create unique illusions and tricks of the eye. The founders of the church could never manage to afford a cupola for the church, so Pozzo painted one instead. The church is maybe one of the earliest versions of user friendly virtual reality,  there are several markers in the floor showing you the best to spots to stand in to get the most out of the illusions of space and tromp l’oeil.

You can visit the church from Monday to Saturday between 7.30am and 7pm and on Sundays between 9am and 7pm. Free guided tours are offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 3pm and 6pm.

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri

Piazza della Repubblica

Want to see an extreme makeover? Then this is the place for you. Take an old set of Roman baths, call in Michelangelo and see what a master of Renaissance design can do!

Dualities make this a one of the more interesting churches to see in Rome – ancient Rome mingling with the Renaissance, Christianity uniting with the ancient pagan world, faith with science, precise time with the eternal.

There’s no fancy façade to this basilica so it can be hard to recognise it as anything more than another ruin, until you step inside. Michelangelo’s design was moulded into the original frigidarium (cold water pool) of The Baths of Diocletian. He took full advantage of its grand size and shape and managed to keep some of the original fixtures. Not a bad effort on a real fixer upper!

The basilica also has a meridian line, an old school precision instrument that measures the passage of the sun. It was used to figure out the dates of Easter, test the Gregorian calendar, and – maybe more importantly – to rival Bologna’s Santa Petronio meridian line. Just a little example of the city-state rivalry that we now only really see at football derby’s!

You can visit the Basilica each day from 7am to 7pm and until 7.30pm on Sundays.

Want a deeper plunge into Roman baths? Come with us and learn all about Roman style spa retreats on our Tour of The Baths of Caracalla and soak in the atmosphere!

The Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

Piazza di Santa Cecilia, 22

Trastevere is loaded with beautiful places, but this church is absolutely not to be missed! And, if you’re very nice to the nuns might even let you in on one of its secrets!

The pretty, peaceful courtyard with its Roman urn at the heart, mosaics and African marble pillars was, legend says, the home of Saint Cecilia and her husband Saint Valerian. For sure some of a Roman house makes up parts of the baptistery, but whose house may just be a bit of poetic licence. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music and – if you’re lucky you – might catch the sounds of a rehearsal drifting over into the courtyard. Inside you can see an example of early Baroque sculpture, the statue of St Cecilia’s martyrdom by Stefano Maderno. There are stunning Medieval mosaics, and in the labyrinthine and beautifully decorated crypt there’s an altar to Minerva. You might want to try your luck with asking a nun (really, really nicely!) if they’ll show you some of the hidden art.

The Basilica is open each day from 10am to 1pm then 4pm to 7pm. The crypt is also open at those times and there is a 2.50 euro entrance fee to get into the excavations.

Want to see more of Santa Cecilia and lovely Trastevere? Come with us along the cobbled lanes and learn all the stories and secrets on our Tour of Trastevere

We hope you enjoyed our top 5! It was such a difficult task for us to choose from all our favourites and make a list of just 5 of the best churches to see in Rome. We’d love to know you think. Do you have any favourite churches in Rome? Tell us about your favourites and must-sees!